You might think that having a felony conviction on your record can make it hard to get the cash you need to start a small business or go to college, but that is not necessarily the case. The federal government, as well as some state governments, specifically sets money aside to help you get back on your feet. The beauty of a grant is that it's essentially free money – you do not have to pay it back. The cash is usually distributed on a need basis, so those with a high income typically will not qualify.
Federal Grants for Felons
The federal Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration offers a number of grant programs in the areas of housing, small business development and transportation. Most are open to anyone who has a need in the area, including felons who are just out of prison as well as those who are categorized as pre-release.
You can use the website Grants.gov to search for federal grants you may be eligible for. Understand when searching this site that there's no drop-down category for felons, and you're not going to find programs specifically for those with criminal records. Rather, you'll need to look for grants that finance the type of training you need, your heritage, business idea or other requirements.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Program
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is nationwide legislation that aims to improve the skills of the workforce, help displaced workers find work, and reduce welfare dependency. While not specific to felons, programs support those who are "basic skills deficient" to get back into work by offering training and education programs. Depending on your income, WIOA may provide financial assistance in the form of a grant.
Programs are administered at the state level; you can learn more through the One Stop Career Center website or at your nearest American Job Center location.
Educational Grants for Felons
Pell Grants are available to any qualifying person attending an approved college or trade school, including almost all felons. They offer free money that you can put towards tuition, books or other education expenses. The grant is awarded on hardship criteria, but there are some other stipulations for felons:
- You can apply for a Pell Grant while incarcerated, but you must be released by the time you receive it. You can receive the grant while on probation.
- Drug convictions generally will bar you from the Pell Grant program, unless you complete a credentialed drug rehabilitation program and pass randomized drug testing.
- Pell Grants are not available to those convicted of certain sexual offenses.
The maximum Pell Grant award for the 2019-2020 school year is $6,195. You may not qualify for the full amount though; it depends on your income and how long you will be attending school. Further information is available on the Federal Student Aid website.
Places to Find Help
Besides Grants.gov and the Federal Student Aid website, the website HelpForFelons.org is another helpful resource for finding free money that may be available to you. This website focuses broadly on your re-entry into society, not on getting a grant. However, it does have a section on current grant and loan programs, as well as tips on everything from housing and jobs to getting old convictions removed from your record.
If you're thinking about starting a business, check out the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. This organization does not provide grants, but it does teach ambitious felons how to pitch for loans and grants, and connects with investors. It can help you make better grant applications and provide advice on where to look for funding.
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